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What’s new in the Office

At the Microsoft TechEd conference in Durban this week, SEAN BACHER looked under the hood of Office 365 Home Premium with Microsoft’s Uriel Rootshtain.

At the end of January, Microsoft changed Office Home Premium 2013 and Office University 2011 from off-the-shelf products to subscription-based offerings. This made many people uncomfortable as they were used to paying for a product, taking it home and installing it on their computer.

Uriel Rootshtain, business lead of the Office division at Microsoft SA wants to set minds at rest. “Although Office 365 Home Premium is now a subscription service, consumers can still go to electronic retail outlets and buy it off-the-shelf.”” But he warns that people won’t find much in the box except a product activation key.

“”Users who go this route will still need to download and install Office 365 Home Premium from the Microsoft site. Once done, they need to activate it by punching in the key found in the box. “”Users can also simply buy an activation key online while downloading the suite,”” he says.

Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium is also being shipped with many new machines, which allows new users to try out the software and then buy an activation key without having to download anything.

Two of the major benefits of Office 365 Home Premium is that once you have payed R650 for the key, you can install the package on up to five devices for twelve months. “”This means that you can have Office 365 Home Premium on your desktop, laptop and even on certain tablets and smartphones, allowing you to start work on one device and continue where you left of on any of the others linked to your profile,”” says Rootshtain. Also, because Office is now a subscription based product, you will always have the latest software installed on all devices.

Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium offers the standard Office products like Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint, but included is 27GB of Cloud storage on SkyDrive. Also included is sixty minutes worth of Skype calls to both mobile and landline numbers.

“”At the same time that Office Home Premium 2013 was switched over to subscription-based model, we launched Office 365 University,”” Rootshtain said.

Office 365 University is a similar offering to Office 365 Home Premium, but as the name indicates – is aimed at the student. “”Office 365 University can only be installed on two devices, but instead of the subscription lasting one year, students only have to renew their subscription every four years,”” he says. Students who want to sign up for the Office 365 University package need to provide their e-mail address to Microsoft, as only accredited schools and universities qualify for this offering.

So what’s new in Office 365 Home Premium?

Microsoft Word has undergone quite a few changes as the product is now designed to work on both touch-screen devices and computers with a mouse and keyboard.

Microsoft has also made online collaboration a lot easier, letting you follow and track changes as they are made in a document. “”Once a task is assigned to someone, that person will be informed that a change needs to be made in a document, and once the change has been made, a check box must be checked to inform others of the change,”” he says. A running list of changes and comments is stored with the document, allowing all collaborators to keep up to date with what has and has not been done.

Another new feature in Word is the ability to work with PDFs. “”In the past copying and pasting from a PDF document was a mess. The formatting disappeared and images and graphs sometimes copied, making the experience tedious,”” says Rootshtain. But now, Word allows you to open a PDF document, keeping all formatting and allowing you to make quick and easy changes.

Excel has also had a major overhaul, especially when extracting single bits of data from other cells in a spreadsheet. “”For instance, in the past if you wanted to extract names from e-mail addresses you would have to write out a complicated algorithm that extracts all letters before the @ sign. You would then have to create a new algorithm that separates first names from last names,”” he says.

With the Flash Fill feature though, all you do is select the table, create a new column and type out the name of the first contact, the column is then automatically updated with names of all the contacts below that.

We have all heard of the “”death by PowerPoint”” adage, and although Microsoft has not done away with programme in the new Office suites, it has made it a lot easier to use and present. “”PowerPoint now offers a dual-screen mode, so presenters are able to view their notes and the next slide, while the audience sees only the slide he or she is talking about,”” he says. We have also include a zoom option for slides full of text.

Finally, Outlook has also gone through some changes. “”Users can quickly change the Outlook format, depending on the device they are using,”” says Rootshtain. When in touch-screen format, icons are made bigger and users can close unneeded toolbars – giving them more screen space to move around. Microsoft has also integrated social media into the contacts section, so you can send a LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter message directly from the Compose Message option.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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